What Did I Learn? Webcomic reviews by Delos Woodruff
This week, I looked at The Nineteenth Century Industrialist by Renee Katz. Sometimes comics have odd titles, subject matter or visuals which can attract or repel viewers. I was wondering who would be attracted to this comic’s title.
What I liked about 19th was the art. It has a loose, dynamic style with great color contrasts. I like the character designs with their varied shapes and very visual personalities. Most would probably find the art at least acceptable because it has some energy to it, so let’s move on to the other aspects of the comic.
I’ve got to warn you that the dialogue is very hard to read at first. I had to squint my brain to figure out why that is because the lettering really isn’t all that bad. 19th has a few uncommon words which break up your scan reading, that’s all. Don’t worry, it smooths out or you get used to it, maybe.
The main character, Hiram Thorpe is a true Nineteenth Century Industrialist. He has no other concerns than making money at any cost. In one comic we see Hiram is shot and he bleeds oil. He goes from dying to horseback and headed for the bank. Another comic has Hiram despairing about getting in trouble over his “wanton destruction of the fragile mother earth.”
Apparently, Hiram has been swept out of his time and into ours. I would say that the humor is supposed to come from his perceptions of “culturally normal” versus the present day “normal.” For instance, a thirty minute lunch is now normal but not for Hiram. And Hiram celebrates Earth Day a little differently than most people do today. Or maybe something a little more mundane – color printing or burning puppies for fuel.
It’s at this point that I realized that I had been hoping for a lighter, quick reading comic to enjoy. And 19th isn’t.
That’s not necessarily bad, mind you. Just not what I was expecting. To appreciate 19th, it helps to be somewhat familiar with the whole period of history. It’s not highbrow reading but you’ll really need some background to appreciate the basic humor. And then there’s something very … zany and wrong about 19th as well.
I can understand when he goes to the Doctor and is happy he doesn’t have the plague. That’s because it was the prevailing disease of the time and he knows nothing of his cancer that’s killing him. It’s morbid but relatable.
Then, Thorpe has this thing with vomiting on people who say things he doesn’t like. There is a comic where Thorpe’s factory worker has a flashback to when he was a kid. His dream is to grow up and kill all the capitalists. It’s not explained or justified anywhere that I saw. One other unjustified strip has Thorpe confide that he has no driver’s license and the others make fun of him for that. The joke is a little weak for class strife or anything else I imagined. There is more twisted stuff that I just don’t grok.
I also don’t think we’re really all that far away from abusing the regular working folk. I’ve worked in a factory in 100 degree F heat where the Boss screamed at a 65 year old with a serious heart condition to move faster. We were already moving faster than the workers behind us on the assembly line could go, so I’m not sure why it was necessary at all. Now, it wasn’t a sweatshop in the classic definition, of course. We had breaks and a lunch and there were no beatings or minors working. Close enough.
Perhaps because of my personal outlook, however much I wanted to like 19th, it just wasn’t for me. Fans of the strip are welcome to comment and fill in whatever blanks I might be missing in my understanding.
What Did I Learn?
Say it was your job to promote this comic. Who would enjoy 19th?
This is an example of a specifically niched comic. You’d need readers who will like the subtle, historical in-jokes. They would also have to have a touch of the crazy or create their own intellectual amusement from the topics in the comic.
I’m sure there are 19th century historians and afficianados that might like it quite a lot. Of course, they might have to be a certain kind of person as well as being a history buff. Perhaps some fanciful alternate history publications or websites might be interested. It’s much easier to look at extreme examples like 19th and pick out who the best potential audience is than a more general appeal.
Still, don’t take my word for it. You can find 19th on Drunk Duck or Comic Genesis and see for yourself.